Mayo Clinic Health Library

Question

Cigar smoking: Safer than cigarette smoking?

My husband insists that cigar smoking is safer than cigarette smoking. Is this true?

Updated: 01-12-2011

Answer

No. Some people might believe that cigar smoking is safer than cigarette smoking, but it's not. Even if you don't inhale the smoke, it's not safer to smoke any type of cigar. Here's why cigar smoking isn't safer:

  • Nicotine. Cigars, like cigarettes, contain nicotine, the substance that can lead to tobacco dependence. A single full-size cigar can contain as much nicotine as do several cigarettes. If you inhale cigar smoke, you can get as much nicotine as if you smoked cigarettes. And even if you don't inhale, large amounts of nicotine can be absorbed through the lining of your mouth. Smoking cigars instead of cigarettes doesn't reduce your risk of nicotine dependence.
  • Cancer. All tobacco smoke contains more than 60 chemicals that can cause cancer, and cigar smoke is no exception. Regular cigar smoking increases the risk of several types of cancers, including cancers of the mouth, lip, tongue, throat, esophagus, larynx and lung.
  • Cardiovascular disease. Regular cigar smoking increases the risk of heart disease, such as coronary artery disease, and lung diseases, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, which make up chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Oral disease. Cigar smoking increases the risk of oral and dental disease, such as gum disease and tooth loss.
  • Secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke from cigars contains the same toxic chemicals that secondhand cigarette smoke does. This secondhand smoke puts adults at increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, and can cause ear infections and episodes of asthma in children. Plus, cigars often burn for longer periods of time, which leads to more secondhand smoke in the air.

If you're thinking of switching from cigarettes to cigars because you believe cigars are safer, try to quit tobacco entirely instead — especially because cigarette smokers typically inhale the cigar smoke. The greater the intensity and frequency of cigar smoking, the greater the risks. Although occasional cigar smoking isn't thought to be as risky as regular cigar smoking, the only safe level of cigar smoking is none at all.

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